The 2020 primary election was one for the history books. Not only was it delayed a month from June 2 to July 7 due to COVID-19, but it became an essentially all-mail-in election, with registered Republicans and Democrats automatically receiving a ballot in the mail while unaffiliated and inactive voters received the application to apply for a mail-in ballot. Ballots included prepaid postage, which Atlantic County government has failed to implement on its own, making it more convenient to place a ballot in the mail.
There is no doubt that this primary election had its challenges, particularly with the U.S. Postal Service and New Jersey’s Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). Some voters simply did not receive their ballot and were forced to file an affidavit for a replacement ballot, while others mailed their completed ballots only to have these ballots returned to them by USPS two days later. Technical bugs and crashes with the SVRS paralyzed elections officials from processing voter registration and mail-in ballot applications in a timely manner. On Election Night and shortly thereafter, it took elections officials an exorbitant amount of time to properly count all of the votes quickly and properly.
We need to do better with vote-by-mail, and that is why the Democratic commissioners on the Board of Elections, John Mooney and Audrey Miles, are working in a bipartisan fashion with their Republican colleagues to make sure elections officials are better prepared for the general election. Additionally, I’ve encouraged elections officials all over the state to convey constructive criticisms and improvements to state government in order to make elections run more smoothly.
Despite these challenges, the July 2020 primary was a huge success. Over 43,000 Atlantic County voters cast a mail-in ballot in the Republican and Democratic primaries, and another 2,000 voted provisionally on Election Day. This turnout is nearly doubled from 2016 for both parties, with 22,000 more people voting this primary election than in 2016. Despite all of the challenges and growing pains with this first all-mail-in election, vote-by-mail significantly boosted turnout for both political parties and at the same time protected the health of both voters and poll workers.
I recognize some individuals are apprehensive to vote by mail. Some people enjoy going to a polling place and physically pushing a button for their preferred candidate. Others may be fearful of fraudulent, but rare, mail-in activities like the situation in Paterson, Passaic County. Despite these concerns, the fact is that thousands of Atlantic County residents have been voting-by-mail for the past 10 years, from “snowbirds” in Florida to college students out-of-state to disabled residents. I’ve been voting by mail on and off for the past 10 years and I vote by mail for one simple reason: It’s convenient and easy. Men and women in the Armed Forces have been voting by mail for decades. If it’s good enough for our heroes, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
We do not yet know what the governor is going to do about the Nov. 3 general election, whether it will be all-mail-in, in-person or a hybrid of both. Regardless of what is decided, I would urge everyone to try voting by mail for one election, despite all of the growing pains we’ve encountered. I’m confident Republicans and Democrats will come together to improve a process that’s already worked for 43,000 Atlantic County residents.
Michael Suleiman, of Galloway Township, is chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee.